South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Five tips for providing excellent visitor experience and how VisitEngland can help

In a crowded market for spending leisure time, successful museums know there's always the scope to do things differently – they know that it’s better to stay on top and to keep people coming through the doors. Nothing is more important than getting the visitor experience right if you're managing a museum or heritage visitor attraction, and the best are always passionate about constantly striving to do things better and differently. But do we always think of all the angles?

Here are five tips when considering visitor experience:

Maintain the welcome beyond the first impression. The initial welcome gives the key first impression to visitors and can set the tone for the rest of their visit of course, but is it always maintained later on? Are staff and volunteers consistent throughout the attraction - in the café, restaurant and shop, for example?

Tell your story clearly and for all to understand. Public access to collections is the reason museums exist, but it can often be the case that access is limited by unclear interpretation that isn’t always easy to understand. Think about whether the the story been told in a way that visitors can easily understand. Is it accessible to all? Are subtitles, large print guides, British Sign Language and good audio-description included wherever possible? Many people engage more through interactive displays and exhibits, so you also need to be checking whether those interactives are working. If they aren’t working, think about how to explain in a positive way.

Get the presentation right. Everywhere. Presentation can be key to enjoyable experiences, return visits and reputation. We know visitors notice the presentational standard of the museum from entry right through to departure. It is important not to overlook any area as that could impact on a person’s experience and their decision of whether to return or even recommend the attraction to others, regardless of how good the displays are. Spend as much time thinking about the presentation of car parking areas, toilets, and picnic areas as you do the galleries and displays. Are they kept clean and tidy throughout the day, for example? If people notice an issue, is it clear how they report it?

Make your catering and retail areas enticing. A good cup of tea, a tasty bite to eat, or a nicely stocked shop can be critical to a good day (and provide a good source of income). But how attractive and enticing is the food and drink on offer in the café or restaurant? Is it always good across the day, or just some of the time? Is the café or restaurant easy for customers to move around? Does the catering area or your shop say something about the museum, or in truth could it be an outlet just anywhere? Making your café, restaurant or shop a reason to visit can boost visitors, reputation and income. You could find that people visit your café to have meetings or catch up on work, which means that they will likely be wanting to use the internet - if there's public Wi-Fi do customers know?

Think of your staff as the memory makers and train them accordingly. In the most efficient teams of museum staff, customer care and product knowledge come together effortlessly and in seamless harmony. How well trained and knowledgeable are your staff? Do they always fully demonstrate their knowledge? Are they customer focused and do they provide service with a smile? Have customer-facing staff been trained in disability and equality awareness?

These tips are all important, but understandably can be overwhelming and you may decide that you would benefit from an independent and impartial view on your whole visitor experience. A good way to do this is by subscribing to VisitEngland's Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme. It can help museums to offer a visitor experience that's the best that it can be. The scheme offers a valuable range of benefits for museums providing an unbiased, independent and professionally experienced "mystery shop" assessment service covering the whole visitor journey with annual or bi-annual assessments undertaken by highly experienced assessors who know the sector inside out, applying a national quality standard which is all designed to help maximise business potential.

What does VisitEngland’s Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme entail and how does it help?
  • To start with you'll get a review of your digital and print media marketing material and an unbiased assessment of expectation built against genuine experience on the day
  • Then you'll get a "mystery shop" day visit from a highly-experienced assessor, who will take into account all aspects of your visitors' journey, to assess the quality of your museum's visitor experience
  • Then there will be a face-to-face debrief at the end of the day where you can ask questions and discuss opportunities for developing the visitor experience
  • Shortly after the visit day you'll get a comprehensive written report of the assessor’s findings, which includes key observations, acknowledgement of areas in which you excel alongside recommendations for improvement
  • The debrief and report is designed to assist with forward planning for investment, identifying immediate actions and areas for future development
  • If you pass you'll join over 800 visitor attractions across the country who are in the scheme. For the full list of accredited attractions, visit
  • You'll get unlimited use of VisitEngland's Quality Rose Marque in all your promotional material, so you can show visitors your museum has the national tourist board's seal of approval
  • If your visitor experience is outstanding you will have the opportunity to achieve one or more unique accolades for attractions. For a list of winners in 2018, visit
  • You'll also get a free quality scheme display sign featuring the Quality Rose Marque after your first visit, and also a certificate to display after each assessment
Download the Quality Standard here:
For more help, an application pack, and information on fees, you can call the staff at VisitEngland Assessment Services on 01256 491111 or email them at

This blog post was written by Simon Hobson. Simon is the Crofton Site Manager (Kennet and Avon Canal Trust) and has previously been the Visitor Experience Manager at Dr Jenner’s House, Museum and Garden. He is also on the Wiltshire County Rep for the South West Fed.

Since you're here...

The South West Fed Conference 2019 'Inspiring Audiences: Home and Away' takes place on 4 & 5 July in Plymouth. Why not join us? Find out more by clicking here.